LONDON — The British love their spy dramas. This one is a doozy.
Last week, the Sun newspaper published an expose that asserted that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was once a “paid asset” who had been “recruited” by Cold War Czechoslovakian spies.
The tabloid reported that an agent “Lt. Jan Dymic — real name Jan Sarkocy — alleged the Labour leader was in collaboration with the Soviet-era Czechoslovakian intelligence agency StB in the late-1980s.”
And that Corbyn's code name, according to the Sun’s former State Security source, was COB.
The Sun based its report, in part, on dusty government files unearthed in Prague archives.
Corbyn and his party spokesman called the accusations absurd. Labour’s official response was: “The claim that he was an agent, asset or informer for any intelligence agency is entirely false and a ridiculous smear.”
The story lives on, provided oxygen by none other than Prime Minister Theresa May.
The Sun reported that Corbyn had met with a Czech agent in London, posing as a diplomat, in the House of Commons.
Corbyn’s press team responded, essentially, so what?
“Like other MPs, Jeremy has met diplomats from many countries. In the 1980s he met a Czech diplomat, who did not go by the name of Jan Dymic, for a cup of tea in the House of Commons. Jeremy neither had nor offered any privileged information to this or any other diplomat.”
Corbyn is a committed Socialist who represents the left-wing of the Labour Party. It is no secret that over the years the former backbencher, now unrivaled leader of his party, has allied himself with left-wing and revolutionary movements abroad, including Venezuela’s now-deceased strongman Hugo Chávez.
The accusation that Corbyn might have been an asset for spooks behind the Iron Curtain was quickly embraced by top Tory politicians. Britain’s Defense Minister Gavin Williamson said, “That he met foreign spies is a betrayal of this country.”
“He cannot be trusted,” Williamson avowed.
Williamson did not say how someone could be blamed for meeting with a spy if they didn’t know he was a spy, which is basically what spies do.
Nevertheless, the top Conservative Party leader went on to say that time and time again Corbyn “has sided with those who want to destroy everything that is great about this country, whether it is sympathizing with terrorists, backing rogue regimes, or cozying up to those who want to inflict pain and misery on the British people.”
On Monday, the prime minister was asked whether she agreed with her defense minister’s remarks.
A more tepid May ventured: “It is for individual members of Parliament to be accountable for their actions in the past.”
“Where there are allegations of this sort,” the prime minister said, then parliamentarians “should be prepared to be open and transparent.”
BBC interviewed the director of the Czech Security Service Archive who told the British broadcaster that “their files suggest Mr. Corbyn was seen as a possible ‘contact’ but no more than that.”
“Mr. Corbyn was not a secret collaborator working for the Czechoslovak intelligence service,” Svetlana Ptacnikova told the BBC. “The files we have on him are kept in a folder that starts with the identification number one.”
The archivist explained: “Secret collaborators were allocated folders that start with the number four. If he had been successfully recruited as an informer, then his person of interest file would have been closed, and a new one would have been opened, and that would have started with the number four.” (In 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.)
A number of commentators have come to Corbyn's defense.
“This is grossly irresponsible pseudo-journalism, concocting an obsessive, unrelenting media campaign off the back of the rantings of a source with about as much credibility as Dave down the local after one too many sambucas,” the Guardian columnist Owen Jones wrote on Tuesday.
“The right-wing press is whipping up hysteria, calling Corbyn a 'collaborator.' Today’s ludicrous Telegraph splash is 'Corbyn urged to reveal his Stasi file'; the Daily Mail opts for 'Time to be open, Comrade Corbyn' (sadly there is no free pullout on how to look for reds under your bed).”
The tussle continues — and so does Corbyn's pushback.
The Labour leader’s spokesman announced that Corbyn had instructed his solicitors to contact Bradley and demand he delete “his libelous tweet or face legal action.”
The tweet was deleted.